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Sustainability Spotlight: The USA’s Green Data Centers

Sustainability Spotlight: The USA’s Green Data Centers

The technology industry is known for being fast-moving and this is certainly true of the data center industry. As with the technology industry as a whole, data centers have been under strong pressure to improve their sustainability. With that in mind here is a quick guide to what you need to know about the USA’s green data centers.

The environmental impact of traditional data centers

For a lot of its history, the data center industry has been more focused on developing technology than on improving sustainability. This means that it had a seriously bad impact on the environment. Here is an overview of the key environmental problems associated with traditional data centers.

Energy consumption and carbon footprint

Traditional data centers are notorious for their immense energy consumption, primarily driven by the constant operation of servers, cooling systems, and other infrastructure.

The energy demand of these facilities often results in a significant carbon footprint, as most data centers rely heavily on non-renewable energy sources such as coal and natural gas for power generation.

The continuous operation of servers, even during periods of low demand, contributes to unnecessary energy wastage and exacerbates environmental concerns.

Air pollution

The reliance on fossil fuels for energy production in traditional data centers not only contributes to carbon emissions but also leads to air pollution. The combustion of coal and natural gas releases harmful pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter into the atmosphere, contributing to smog formation and respiratory issues.

Water usage

Water plays a crucial role in cooling systems within traditional data centers, where vast amounts are used to dissipate heat generated by servers. Cooling towers and systems consume substantial volumes of water, leading to strain on local water resources and potential environmental impact.

Waste generation

Traditional data centers generate substantial amounts of electronic waste due to the frequent upgrading and replacement of outdated equipment. Improper disposal of this waste further compounds environmental degradation, as it often contains hazardous materials that can contaminate soil and water sources.

Environmental disruption

The heat generated by data center operations can disrupt local ecosystems and exacerbate urban heat island effects, impacting biodiversity and human health in surrounding areas. Overall, the environmental impact of traditional data centers underscores the urgent need for more sustainable alternatives.

How the USA’s green data centers are improving sustainability

Traditional data centers rightfully drew criticism for their unsustainable approach. Now the USA’s green data centers are implementing measures to address these issues. Here is an overview of some of the key steps the USA’s green data centers are taking.

Improving energy efficiency

There are two main ways that data centers are improving their energy efficiency. The first is by making greater use of energy-efficient hardware. This means everything from low-power processors and solid-state drives to LED lightbulbs. Arguably most importantly, it means implementing sophisticated cooling systems that are much more energy-efficient than traditional solutions.

The second is to optimize the use of their resources. Leveraging virtualization, consolidation, and workload management techniques enables data center operators to maximize server utilization rates. This avoids equipment being powered to run at low capacity (or to be left idle).

Increasing their use of renewable energy

Many data centers can generate some renewable energy on their own premises. Solar energy is a popular option. This is partly because solar panels can be installed in most data centers and partly because solar power is available in just about all locations.

Installing facilities to generate power from the wind can be more complicated. In some locations, however, the benefits can more than justify the outlay. Hydropower and geothermal power are more niche. With that said, geothermal power does have the potential to go mainstream. Like solar power, it is available everywhere.

Data centers can also contract with energy suppliers to have their electricity provided from clean sources.

Reducing their use of fresh water

Improvements in cooling technologies have reduced data centers’ thirst for water. Moreover, the USA’s green data centers have taken additional steps to use water more efficiently. For example, the water that they do use is often then reused for other purposes (e.g. sanitation).

Promoting the circular economy

Modern data centers are now following the principle of “reduce, reuse, recycle”. Technologies such as virtualization are enabling them to reduce the amount of hardware that they buy.

They look for ways to reuse this hardware when it can no longer fulfill its original purpose. This could mean refurbishing it and selling or donating it. If it’s not possible, they ensure that it is properly recycled rather than just sent to landfill.

Minimising their heat generation

By improving energy efficiency, green data centers in the USA minimize heat generation. This hence minimizes the problems it causes.

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